The Key to Happiness

"It's not about you."

That first sentence in The Purpose Driven Life could be a whole book by itself.

The more I learn about life and about how to live it, the more I'm coming to realize the whole key to happiness is perspective. Our perspective completely controls us and determines how we act and react to the events around us.

Events are neither good nor bad---it's all in the perspective of the one affected.

Consider this scenario: An apple falls from a tree. Is that bad or good?

To the apple farmer looking up into the empty tree, an apple falling is the sign of birds or disease attacking his livelihood. He shakes his head, asking why God would allow such a thing.

But an apple falling into the hands of a hungry little boy beneath the tree is a miracle.

It's all about perspective.

The first step in the pursuit of happiness is realizing that It's not about me. When we view life events from a human perspective, the world can seem a dark and scary place, filled with potential tragedy. When tough times come, we're tempted to rail at God: How could you let this happen? I thought you loved me!

Everyone has been there. But that line of questioning only leads to anger because the focus is wrong. The question presupposes that I am the center of my universe. 
When we shift from a me-centered outlook to a God-centered one, and choose to view life events as opportunities specially designed for us by our loving Father, everything changes.
When we understand  that His purpose in everything is to draw us to Him and make us more like his perfect Son, life starts to make sense. When we begin to view life from God's perspective, many of the issues that so puzzled us before now have reason. They may be difficult, but they're not pointless.

An eleven-year-old child lying in a coma with a life-altering brain injury looks like a terrible thing. When the doctors shake their heads and tell you not to hope for much, it's easy to wonder if God is paying attention. If she lived, she would be forever handicapped. From a human perspective, this was not for the best.

But from God's perspective, He was giving a little girl and her family the unique opportunity to grow. He had allowed hurt to accomplish greater good so that she would draw closer to him and to live out her teen years, not in typical self-centered rebellion, but in devotion to God and others.

Her injury has matured our daughter Susie and deepened her faith like nothing else would have. At 20, she still deals with daily pain and limitations, but she has a passion for God and others that radiates from her life and impacts many for his kingdom. We also had to grow through this and learn to trust that our Father knows what we need and will provide it. Her injury is a very good thing--designed especially for us to achieve the eternal benefits God wanted for us.

When we learn to view every situation from God's perspective, life no longer seems so cruel and unfair. No amount of "putting the best face on it" or "trying to see the bright side" heals a heart that life has crushed. It is only when I learn to trust that nothing can happen to me without my Father's express approval and for a specific purpose that life begins to make sense.


You're Hurting Me!

He'd done it. 
I could hardly believe that my obedient, sweet-natured son had blatantly disobeyed me, but he had. 
And he was old enough to know better.

Because of his age and the nature of the offense, I knew we were at a crossroads. The punishment must be painful or I may lose his heart forever. I had to hurt him. I didn't want to. I love him. I would have preferred to give him a stern scolding and let it go. But I had to hurt him to help him. And because I love him, I did.

But I didn't harm him.

The difference between hurt and harm is as wide as the ocean. But as human beings with limited understanding, we often confuse them. We do hurtful things to our children all the time, because we have their best interests in mind. Taking a two-year-old for injections appears to the uninformed--and to the toddler--that you are harming him. But in order to accomplish the greater good, a loving parent hurts to avoid harm.

God is a loving parent. He allows hurts to come into our lives and often we shake our fist at him. "You're supposed to love me! You're hurting me! Why?" We confuse hurt with harm.

God will never harm his children. Harm inflicts permanent damage.Harm is irreparable. Harm is not in your best interest and is done by those who don't care about you.

But hurt is often allowed to pierce us for our good. Our Father takes us kicking and screaming for our injections and it may even appear to others that he is unkind. But he knows how much hurt to allow before it harms us.

We can turn the hurt into harm all by ourselves. When we react in anger and bitterness to the hurts God allows, we harm ourselves. We can create our own wounds that never heal. When we lash out, turn from him, and embrace evil out of spite, we create our own harm.

Think about what is hurting you today. A situation. A person. A disappointment. It hurts. God promises to comfort and "bind up the brokenhearted." (Psalm 147:3)

But are you in danger of harming yourself because of it? God won't harm you. If you experience permanent harm, it was done by you alone.

Don't let hurts become harm. Choose to trust your Father and endure the hurts. He is doing it for your eternal good.

Faith or Trust

Is there a difference between faith and trust?

A friend posed this question last week, which resulted in a lively discussion. As I pondered it more, the word "faith" echoed in my mind from Hebrews 11, the "Hall of Faith." Many verses begin, "By faith Abraham...or Moses...or Elijah..." and then go on to detail their heroic acts. 

But verse 13 jerks you to a stop. "All these died in faith, never having received the promises..." It seems a rather rude interruption to the glowing accolades and you wonder for a moment if their faith was misplaced.

The subtle difference is best illustrated in the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found in Daniel 3. Faith gave them boldness to declare, "Our God is able to deliver us from your fiery furnace, O King." You can tell by the statement that they had no doubts about that. But they don't stop there. Trust provoked them to add the key words, "But if not..."

 Faith believes boldly in the power and ability of God. But trust rests calmly on the character of God 
and says with Job, "Though he slay me, 
yet will I trust him."

 Too many people have one without the other and get off balance. The "faith" people proclaim confidently that what they want and have prayed for is a reality--even though it's not and never comes. 

"Trust-only" people refuse to exercise the faith that pleases God. They fear going out on a limb and actually believing God for what he has shown them is his will. 

Either one by itself is not sufficient. To remain overcomers in this world, we must have both.

Phone plans. 

Such a confusing array of options! They get more confusing as technology improves. Every few weeks more choices clamor for a decision: internet or not, camera, memory, texting, rollover minutes, roaming...

I was in England once and when it came time to pay for our fast food, we held out a handful of what looked like play money and let the clerk take what she needed! I feel the same way when I try to understand the latest options in technology.

If all you want is a phone on which you can give and receive calls (good luck with that!) your options come down to two: pay as you go or buy a monthly plan that allows you unlimited access. Most people discover that paying as you go is not the way to go. With an unlimited plan, you can call all you like 24/7 without worrying about whether your bill is getting too high.

The Holy Spirit works a little like that. Many Christians, upon receiving the Holy Spirit when they are saved, believe that is all there is. When they face times of crisis or spiritual battle, they call upon the power of the Holy Spirit to receive strength to overcome, sortof like paying as you go. But the rest of the time, they struggle through the Christian life in their own strength. They rely upon their knowledge of right and wrong to resist temptation. They determine to be faithful to the "Christian disciplines" of Bible reading, prayer, and worship--whether they want to or not. They plug into the Holy Spirit on an "as-needed" basis. The result is often limited effectiveness, weak worship, and fleshly attempts to serve the Lord.

What is shamefully overlooked in many Christian circles is the Biblical truth that God offers so much more to the seeking heart. John the Baptist said of Jesus, "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Matt. 3:11) It is that baptism in the Holy Spirit that turbo-charges the Christian life.

Receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit is like choosing the unlimited phone plan. The Holy Spirit of God is the third person of the Trinity, but He is often overlooked or treated more like a "God Fog." Jesus  desires to baptize us with Him, to so immerse us in his presence that we gladly let SELF drown. This baptism is usually a second experience that follows salvation and occurs when a seeking heart sheds fleshly interests and wants more and more of God. A. W. Tozer said, "None of the persons in the Bible and none that I can find in Church history or biography was ever filled with the Holy Spirit who didn't know when he was filled."

R. A. Torrey, a contemporary of D. L. Moody and a great evangelist of the 1800's, said, " is one thing to be born again, and something further, something additional, to be baptized with the Holy Spirit." He states also in his book The Holy Spirit: Who He Is and What He Does that when he received this baptism, "the result was a transformed life and a transformed ministry."

D. L. Moody described his experience as "waves of liquid love" that came pouring through his spirit and from then on, his ministry took on new power and thousands were saved. Sadly, this is a doctrine that has been stripped from orthodox Christianity and as a result, the church of today has very little power to accomplish what God has left us here to do. 

Too often, the church has become a self-absorbed, 
inward-focused group of legalists or grace-abusers. 
This is what happens to Christianity 
when it separates itself from
the power of the Holy Spirit.

I can attest to the fact that without the baptism of the Holy Spirit, my attempts to please God and live righteously were done in my own human strength. There was no joy, peace, or power in my service. Most of what I did for God was done out of duty and mental determination. But since Jesus Himself baptized me with his Holy Spirit, my life has never been the same. Instantly everything changed and has never gone back. I would not return to that old Lea Ann for all the gold in the world.

Are you using the Holy Spirit like a pay-per-minute phone plan? 
Do you often wonder why your Christian service lacks joy and zeal?

It could be that you need the baptism Jesus came to give you. 
Prepare your heart, offer up your will, and then ask him for it.

For a helpful illustration of this concept, see this post.

Wash Time

 When my sons were young, shower time became a battlefield. I don't know what it is about cleanliness that strikes terror in the hearts of young males, but there you have it. The idea of a thorough washing  became synonymous with child abuse. 

Especially my youngest, Micah. At about age 9 or 10, he did everything possible to avoid a real bath. He would emerge after 30 seconds in the bathroom with four or five damp hair tendrils and clean clothes. His face had never seen the water and I doubted the rest of him had either.

He wasted more time trying to pretend he was taking a shower than if he had just gotten it over with. Consequently, his adolescent B.O. was noticeable. It was not until he suddenly realized that girls did not have "cooties" that the psuedo-showering ended and became instead hour-long, hot-water-draining marathons.

There is a parallel here with what the Bible calls the "washing of water by the Word." (Ephesians 5:26) Washing implies thoroughness. If you wash the dishes, you spend time with them, examining them for food scraps, and scrubbing them until nothing foul remains. If you wash the dog, you suds him up until that doggy smell lessens. And what God intends for his children is that we wash our hearts and minds with his Word until we no longer stink like the sinful world we've been wading through.

Unfortunately, the attitude of many professing believers is like that of my 10-year-old shower-hater. They know they have to read the Bible, so they trudge reluctantly to some devotional book or spend a hurried five minutes staring at the Bible, and feel like they've done their duty. Their hearts are barely damp and they reek of spiritual B.O., but they are the only ones who don't realize it.

Our minds are polluted. Our hearts are wicked. Our thoughts, desires, and motives are questionable at best. We do not have the tools to fix ourselves. A simple sprinkling of good advice is not sufficient to cleanse us from the inside out. We must have the washing of the Word of God to constantly purify what our flesh and the world dirties.

Are you settling for an occasional sprinkling of the Word? God wants to wash you. You won't get clean without it. 

And like they say, cleanliness is next to Godliness. Go ahead and run the hot water tank dry. There is plenty more!


The air is thick these days with encouragement. Encouragement, in fact, seems to have subtly replaced the Gospel. New Age think-ology has so infected Christianity that to the naive and scripturally illiterate, the two are becoming synonymous .

"God is for you!"
 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." 
"God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life."

All true. All valuable parts of scripture.

The problem with the current trend is that many presenters of modern Christianity pretty much stop the message there. Rah-Rah Christianity has overtaken what Paul calls "the whole counsel of God."  In Acts 20:26, he says, "I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God."

The whole counsel of God. What a telling phrase! Encouragement is certainly a part of God's counsel, but his encouragement is reserved for those who are investing their lives in His purposes. God's encouragement has nothing to do with My dreams, My wishes, My desires, and My ideas. God's encouragement was always aimed at those who were committed to His dreams, His wishes, His desires, and His ideas.

The whole counsel of God has been pared down to pre-chewed bites of Postive Theology 
and doled out as tasty morsels 
to an entire generation who think that's all there is.

Even more interesting is that this verse is followed by a clear warning. "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock...know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them."

Notice he doesn't say false things. He calls the teaching "twisted." To twist something means we take the raw substance and maneuver it to fit our desires. To twist the Bible is to take isolated verses and apply them liberally to people and situations where they do not apply. To twist scripture is to filter it and keep only the feel-good thoughts and slogans everyone will Like on Facebook.

And he warns that these "fierce wolves" will arise "from among your own selves." It would be easy to spot a fierce wolf from the Muslim religion, a Buddhist, or an atheist.  But it can be extremely difficult to identify fierce wolves who look like, talk like, and claim to believe the same things we believe. How do we recognize them?

Paul answers that: Are they declaring the "whole counsel of God?"

A.W. Tozer said, "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply." We sure don't hear that taught much on religious television, do we? Can you imagine a NYT bestseller with that title?

Paul declares himself innocent of the blood of those who have refused his teaching based on the fact that he did "not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God."

The whole counsel includes the vast bulk of Jesus' teaching that involved giving up everything for his sake. The whole counsel lays the scriptural foundation for pleasing God--death to SELF. "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet, not I, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20)

The whole counsel refuses to encourage the carnal in their carnality and the unbelievers on their way to hell. The whole counsel is the voice of the prophets crying the unpopular truth from the mountaintops. The whole counsel tells people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.

The implication is heavy. What would Paul say to those who call themselves minsters of the Gospel, but they DO shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God?


The World of Barbie

When my girls were little, Barbie held a position of prominence in our home. Every birthday or Christmas, a new Barbie graced the "must-have" list. This gal was a 12-inch plastic Wonder Woman. She was Doctor Barbie, Pilot Barbie, Nurse Barbie, Vet Barbie, Teacher Barbie, You-Name-Her Barbie. Depending upon the current passion of any little girl at the moment, there was a Barbie doll to fit her dreams. Barbie could be anything any girl wanted her to be.

That's okay when you're 8 years old---and even better if you happen to own stock in the Mattel Corporation. But what about when you grow up?

Unfortunately, people tend to apply that same mentality to God. Look at the best-seller lists. Flip through religious television (if you can stand it). Listen to talk radio or scan through the editorial pages. Everybody has an opinion on God. From Oprah to Chopra, human opinion reigns supreme in defining the Deity.

According to your personal preference, you can choose from a brightly decorated assortment of designer gods. There is Cheerleader god, Nature god, Meditation god, Dream-weaver god, Rescuer god, etc. There are more choices for a god then there are for Barbie.

Some descriptions even claim to be loosely based on the Bible. But it's a picked-over Bible. It's a carefully selected collection of verse scraps that fit the particular god they are defining. They are often like the 3 blind men defining an elephant. Each one defined the whole by the small part he could feel. 

The suggestion that a God of love could also be a God of wrath does not set well. The idea that the God who creates might also be the God who destroys doesn't fit the shrink-wrapped packaging. No one wants to explain that the God who is FOR US, is also the God who AGAINST the evildoer. It's much prettier to stress the nice things about God and neutralize the rest.But that ends up not being God at all.

So what pink box does your god come in? Have you defined him the way you want him to be? If you think about it, none of those Barbies was any different from the rest. Naked, they were all the same tan plastic with white tangled hair. Only the packaging and outfits were different. It was a crock, another way to get our money.

And the world of designer gods is also a crock. A way to get your money and your life. Be sure you don't fall for the fancy packaging. The real God is found only in the pages between Genesis and Revelation. Don't let American Popular Religion define him for you. 

You need Savior God. He's the only one who is real. 


Except For This One Thing

"Are you sure Mom said we can't have these cookies?" twelve-year-old Jack asked. He folded his arms and fixed an intimidating stare on his little brother.

Five-year-old Ricky dropped his eyes and chewed his lip. "Well, um...yeah, I think she did. She said...she said..." He grabbed his head with both hands. "I...I think she said we couldn't even touch them! They're for her class, but--" His head slowly swiveled until he was eye-level with the counter where the still-warm cookies tantalized. "Well, maybe she didn't really mean it."

Human reasoning was Satan's first weapon against mankind and he's still using it today. The first temptation began with the words, "Has God really said...?" Implied in the simple question was the idea that a reasonable authority would never say such a thing. There had to be a miscommunication. Human understanding could come up with a more acceptable solution.

The world hasn't changed that much. Human beings haven't changed. Satan's tactics worked back then and they work now. They work so well that he even applies them to salvation. His lie tells us that we get to define our own level of commitment to Jesus Christ.

The rich young ruler tried it in Matthew 19. He came to Jesus and basically asked, "Who do I make the check out to?" Jesus loved him, but he knew his heart. Jesus never let his love for people compromise his message or the truth. The young man went away very sad because his bottom line was "I will give you everything but THAT!"

Thousands of people today are basing their eternal destiny on the unfounded hope that they can write their own ticket to heaven. They have no problem buying into the truth of the Gospel. They believe Jesus died for them, and they can commit to doing some Christian-looking things. In fact, they welcome the chance. It makes them feel better. But in their hearts, they refuse to let go of ownership.

"I'll give you most of me, Jesus, except for this one thing." This One Thing is usually a sin stronghold, a habit, a relationship, or a sense of control. They, like the rich young ruler, hope they can impress Jesus with enough flash that he won't notice they aren't giving him everything.

He's not impressed. He loves them, but he's not impressed. And he never bends the rules for anyone.

God did not bend the rules for Adam and Eve. And he won't bend the rules for you and me. When Jesus said we must "deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him," he meant it. No one gets to say, "except for this one thing," and be a true follower of Christ.

We don't have anything to do with salvation. God writes the ticket. It is his way or it is no way. He does not barter, compromise, or change. If you are holding out, holding back, or explaining that you want to follow him "except for this one thing," you are fooling yourself.

What is that "one thing" that is  keeping you from a real relationship with Jesus? Has God really said? Yes, he has. Whatever His Word says is the way it has to be. We don't get to write our ticket the way we think it should go. We don't get to pick and choose the sins we want to keep.

If we want what he offers, we do it his way.


Are You Playing with the Good Ol' Boys?

Yes, that's me chatting with John Travolta.

And my husband shared a moment with Billy Graham. Actually, it was less than a moment. Seconds, really.

And to be quite honest, these guys weren't very friendly. Cold was more the word. Wax cold.

Okay, they're not real. They are only wax statues in New York City's Madame Tussuad's Wax Museum. But when you're in there, the statues are creepily realistic. For a moment, you're almost certain you saw one move. Didn't that nostril flare? Didn't that eye bat?

You can look as closely as you like, but they won't move because they are not alive. They have all the external indications of a functioning human being, but they're as lifeless as any other hunk of wax.

There are a lot of professing Christians walking around like wax sculptures. Jesus scolded a few of them in Revelation 3. The group of believers at Sardis sounds like Church of the Walking Dead. Ever been to one of their services? You sit on your designated pew, envisioning the entire building as a giant casket, already six feet under.

God isn't any more excited about them than they are about Him.

Their treasured programs have been in place since the 1800's, and by golly they're not about to change a thing.

"This is how we've always done it!" they bellow, as if that should forever silence any inquisitive minds. Their Sunday School passes out dust-covered papers from the '50's to the few children who've been forced into attendance by their parents.

Deacon Jones growls out an offertory prayer filled with "Thee's" and "Thou's" to a God He's met only briefly around the collection plate. The rest of the week, he'd rather God didn't show up at all.

They know how to run a church. They like the unchanging schedule of pot-luck dinners and relish the latest gossip about any newcomers who dare darken their doors. This is THEIR church and everybody knows it.

God knows it too. He's not welcome there any more than the single mother or the multi-pierced biker. And He's not pleased about it.

"You have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead!" Jesus shouts to them. "Wake up, or I will come to you as suddenly as a thief in the night and make you give an account of yourselves."

Revelation 3 sounds a warning to those of us who've perfected the art of playing church. Going through the motions does not fool God. He knows whether or not your name is forever written in his Book of Life and it has nothing to do with how much you give, how often you are at the church, or whether you lead the services. The only names written in his Book are the ones he calls Overcomers.

There were a few Overcomers in Sardis. They truly loved Him, and He points them out as an example to the rest. He promises that they will walk with Him, wearing His robes of white, and that He will announce their names before His Father and the angels.

To Deacon Jones and the Good Ol' Boys, He offers a stern rebuke. "Repent, before it's too late."

So where are you in this? Are you in the band with the Good Ol' Boys or are you an Overcomer?

Who are the overcomers? I John 5:4 says that "everyone who is born of God overcomes the world." The overcomers are the true believers, the ones who have opened their hearts to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and become new creatures in Christ.

Is your name sealed forever in Heaven with Christ or have you spent a lifetime trying to get it right on your own terms?

Does your life have all the outward manifestations of holiness, but your heart is cold and dead?

Read Jesus' warning to your buddies at Sardis. It's not too late. That's why the warning is written in Scripture. It's for you. He wants your heart. All of you. Warm and pliable, mistakes and all. He longs to tell you, "You will walk with me in white, for you are worthy."

It is His sacrifice that makes us worthy, but He gives us full credit for it.

Tell Deacon Jones 'goodbye' and ask God to make you an Overcomer. Change can be painful, but the retirement benefits alone are worth any sacrifice.


A New Kind of Resolution

Rather than make New Year's Resolutions 
that usually fail,  
 try making daily resolutions. 

Start every morning on your knees, telling the Lord, 
"For today, I will follow you as closely as I know how. 
For today, I am crucified with you and my life is for your glory alone. 
Today I put you in control of my thoughts, my words, and my attitudes. 
This is the day that you have made 
and I will rejoice and be glad in it." 

You've got a lot better chance of success with daily resolutions and by the end of the year, you've kept a 
New Year's Resolution!